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Ideas & Observations

Q&A: Sean Soulsby, The Children’s Foundation

What is The Children’s Foundation and why was it established?

The Children’s Foundation exists to improve the health and well-being of children and young people in the North East by making serious stuff fun! The charity was set up in 1990 in Newcastle upon Tyne, at a time when the North East had the worst levels of child health in the country according to a government report called the Health of the Nation in 1990. Our Yellow Brick Road Appeal raised £12M to build The Sir James Spence Institute of Child Health at the RVI, a home for research into childhood ill–health, a building we gifted to the NHS.  Our overall aim is; that North East children and young people are happy and healthy. They feel loved, are respected, are given a voice and are heard.

We’re a charity in the North East, for children and families of the North East. Today we continue to work with children and young people from birth to age 18 within their communities providing opportunities that enhance their health and well-being, supporting the ups and downs of childhood.

What are you working on at the moment?

The Children’s Foundation’s work focuses on three core themes, children’s physical health, mental health and early years. We have a range of community based early intervention projects that improve children’s health and well-being in these areas. The latest project that we’ve been working on is the Baby Box campaign which launched earlier this year which has the aim of giving every first time parent and their baby in the region the best start possible.

The Baby Box campaign comes at a time when more families than ever need our support and it has been designed to level the playing field when it comes to child development in our region and give newborn babies in vulnerable families the best start in life – raising the aspirations in the North East and creating a future of happy, resilient and creative community.

We also run a much-loved project called Fuzzy Subjects which supports primary school children with their mental health and well-being, using giant puppets that they can interact with in a fun and informal way. With the summer break just around the corner we’re getting stuck into our holiday activity projects which give children the chance to be children, to have fun, try new things, meet new people and be fed.

Why here and why now?

All of the work that we do addresses the needs of children and families in 2023. Far too many North-East children are born into poverty and our region has fallen behind others in terms of school attainment and health inequalities. Infant mortality in the North East is higher than the national average which is one of the reasons we launched the Baby Box; a cost-effective scheme to help reduce inequalities in the North East. Our children are getting a raw deal. Positive experiences early in life are closely associated with better performances at school, good emotional development, improved work outcomes, and better lifelong health. Tackling these issues is vital to levelling up. It is people who make up businesses and it is essential that leaders today understand the crucial role that they play in shaping what our regional society looks like tomorrow.

Why is the work that you are doing important for North East business to take notice of?

Positive experiences early in life are closely associated with better performances at school, good emotional development, improved work outcomes, and better lifelong health. Tackling these issues is vital to levelling up.

Businesses plays a key role in society – they are completely intertwined. It isn’t just a fluffy, nice thing to do; if businesses don’t invest in the wider communities and issues that surround them, especially children and young people, then that has a direct impact on their workforce or customer base of the future. We should be working together to retain and empower our young people to be creative, ambitious and resilient which in turn will have a huge effect on our regional economy and ability to grow.

How can business leaders support the work you’re doing?

We work with businesses in lots of different ways, and the best thing to do is come in for a cuppa and a chat about how we can have the best partnership. That could be something like adopting us as your Charity of the Year, volunteering, offering specialist skills or resource like our friends at Stiller Warehousing and Distribution who support us through storing, packing and delivering our Baby Boxes to new parents, they’re support made this project possible so you can make a real difference.

If you have any colleagues heading off on maternity soon you can also pay it forward with the Baby Box scheme, if you purchase one Baby Box for the parent to be, another will be donated on your behalf to a vulnerable family right here in the North East.

What is a common misconception about working in the charity sector?

That we are the poor relative to industry; personally I think the term ‘the third sector’ should be canned. The Voluntary and Community sector often trail blaze and have the greatest reach, respect and impact. The charity sector is free from red tape and bureaucracy and we exist for real people and fill the gaps in society that matter the most. Charities play a vital role in the local economy, they create jobs and are trusted to do the right thing. Not only that but we create healthier happier people, foster young talent and champion creativity and skills.

To get in touch give us a call on 0191 282 0000 or email [email protected]